This essay was published 3 November 2014 in the Daily Wales: News for a Sovereign Nation.
Divided We Fall
Plaid Cymru and the Green Agenda
Why Greens should Vote for Plaid Cymru
From ‘Agoriad’ (‘Opening’)
Mewn glesni, tesni’n lasgu,
cwmysg â’r glas sy’n llathru,
Croeso rhwng dwy ynys- hen gynghanedd
ger y moroedd garw- llaw tangnefedd.
In the blue calm, sunburst of radiance
– the green light that shines with charity
the welcome of two isles – old harmony
by the rough seas – a hand of tranquility.
There is a considerable array of serious decisions that will have to be made by the people in the upcoming UK General Elections of 2015.
By people, I mean the vast multitude of individual working citizens for whose interests and representation the Parliament in Westminster was originally established.
By decision, I do not mean some arbitrary choice, or some choosing of a product in a shop, but one that involves thought and deliberation – and only then a choice.
In the context of decision-making, it is never sufficient to simply remain within a boxed mentality or echo chamber, captivated by the habit of custom which merely accepts the status quo and its erratic, though familiar, surface narrative.
One must look beyond the surface of the headlines and investigate the root causes and truths which stand behind the powers that be. It is toward the facilitation of such an investigation that the following essay is written.
The Problem of Westminster
Parliament is meant to be a public institution of democracy.
It is a common criticism in contemporary political discourse that the reason democracy does not work in Parliament, in the sense of representing the interests and needs of the people, is that it has been somehow corrupted, by incumbency, special interest groups, economic and population uneven-development, or whatever other reasons that can be given for why our democracy is not democratic.
Such critics would then follow many of the possible paths to reform the current order: to limit the influence of money in politics, the increase of the accountability of public officials, the curtailment of lobbyists, the proper public distribution of investment, especially in regions which already receive European Structural Funds, and devolution.
Yet, while such corruption of the institution of Parliament is truly evident, all of these transgressions of the interests of the people are merely symptoms of a deeper problem with the very notion and institution of Westminster itself. Westminster itself is profoundly un-democratic in its very existence. It cannot be reformed because of what it truly is.
Indeed, these various symptoms of corruption are indications of a structural contradiction in the current constitutional order of the United Kingdom, one which veils a relationship of undemocratic, imperial rule of one national parliament over other, subordinate nations which remain in various states and conditions of nascent self-realisation.
This veiled relationship of domination by one national parliament over other insufficiently organised and represented nations (although they are given a pittance of representation in the nationalist parliament which is dominated by the industrial and financial hub of the South) is perhaps the best explanation of the exclusion of the very question of English devolution from the Kilbrandon Commission (originally the Crowther Commission) and the Kilbrandon Report of the Royal Commission of the Constitution 1969-1974.
This second Royal commission (one for which many again are calling, along with calls for a Constitutional ‘convention’, for our own times, and even more so now in light of the narrow ‘No’ victory in Scotland) was set into action by Labour in response to the first victories of Plaid Cymru and the SNP in the 1960’s.
The question of English devolution would indeed be utterly redundant and would expose the fact that Westminster is not only an already devolved English parliament, but one that is in fact an imperially established Parliament which rules a Kingdom of several nations and regions, which in themselves do not have sufficient institutional development in order to stand as equals, as peer nations to other nations.
Indeed, if such institutional development were to occur, then there would be no basis for a Kingdom which is based merely upon the domination by one national parliament over other conquered nations. Blaming the captive victims, the dire results of imposed stagnation or even destruction of development, such as limited funding (and no taxation powers) or the closing of the mines by Thatcher, are shamelessly proclaimed as the raison d’etre for the Union.
Westminster operates with the pretense that it is a British parliament, but it is merely a single national parliament which maintains hegemony over conquered peoples and remains part and parcel of a theocratic, monarchical, and imperial constitutional order.
This insight into the ultimately un-democratic character of Westminster, as we will see in a moment, will be the deciding factor in a decision closer to home in Wales, one of the subordinate nations to which I referred to above.
There will be a day when Wales will have its own parliament, but one must work upon the democratic platform that is available at any given time. Plaid Cymru has continued to participate in coalitions and networks for the last 48 years in Westminster and has influenced major policy initiatives. Plaid is also a vital and influential force in the National Assembly and has over two-hundred councilors in local councils.
At the end of the day, it is from the personal perspectives of everyday individuals that these issues become relevant – the question of a better form of democracy for the people of Wales who are living now and in the future, one which represents their interests, needs and aspirations. Yet, it should not go without saying that this vital work in the present moment always strives, for the members of Plaid Cymru, within the horizon of struggle for the fundamental freedom of national self-determination.
The Political Topography of Wales
As for Wales, and for its decision in terms of its current representation in Westminster, in the General Elections of 2015 – and specifically upon Green issues, which is the focus of this essay – it would seem that for many informed voters, the only serious decision comes down to one between Plaid Cymru and the Greens.
Obviously, with their M4 disaster-in-the-making, Labour has been exposed as unconcerned about environmental impact, especially since it operates within the mind-set of the urban South. And, this is not even to mention the humiliating and cowardly capitulation of Ed Miliband to the austerity agenda, future and past, of an un-mandated ‘Coalition Government’.
Any Labour administration, which would most likely be an utterly dystopic coalition, would be of a ‘coalition-light’ brand, another wave along the same trajectory toward the dismantlement of the welfare state and the continued theft in each and every act of privatisation, the plundering of the wealth of the nation, gained through the work of the people.
(As for the Liberal Democrats, I feel that they have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted in government.) There is no more to say. The Liberal Democrats are dead.
There may moreover seem to be little reason to even mention the Tories (or their Frankenstein monsters UKIP and Britain First) when we speak of the environment. Yet, there are many people in the ‘Countryside Alliance’ and various other rural and conservation organisations and networks who, while being of good faith and sincerely conscientious about protecting and conserving the rural environment and rural ethos, at the end of the day, almost hypnotically vote Tory.
The ‘Countryside Alliance’-type voter must be encouraged to see that the Tories and their eight Welsh Tory MPs have absolutely no concern for the environment, for the preservation of the rural, countryside lifestyle, and that their faith in such ‘Conservatism’ is therefore misplaced. Fox-hunting and wind-farms do not exhaust the totality of environmental concerns. The ‘country-side alliance’-type voter would be much better off if he or she would support a party which truly works for the protection and the conservation of the environment.
Plaid Cymru and the Green Party – Working Together for the Green Agenda
It is true that for a long time, and until the present day, Plaid and the Greens have worked together on many areas of vital concern, of which there are many. Indeed, some have joked that the Greens are Plaid, but without the ‘nationalism’. There is, in fact, a remarkable similarity between their respective programmes.
Yet, the relationship between Plaid and the Greens is not merely superficial, but has a detailed, sometimes acrimonious, sometimes victorious, history of cross-fertilisations, pacts, strategic and tactical alliances. The era of the 1990’s was perhaps the high-water point for inter-party work and even joint candidacies for Plaid Cymru and the Green Party. They have also recently cooperated, along with 100 other organisations, in the massive anti-NATO protests in Newport, Wales.
The 1990’s was an era, in the words of Menna Elfyn, of an ‘old harmony’ of the ‘two isles’, of Plaid and the Greens, which the charity of the ‘green light’ – the Green Agenda – must restore to ‘tranquility.’ The green light, the green opening, reveals the harmony to come, yet the path of welcome is still surrounded by ‘rough seas’, and of the necessary acceptance of this reality.
In this light, the most compelling argument against voting for the Welsh Greens consists in two vital issues.
The first is the very fact that they have ‘no boots on the ground’ in Wales. Since their active engagement with Plaid Cymru in the 1990’s and beyond, green attitudes amongst the electorate have not translated into electoral success on any level. Their website for Wales, moreover, is merely a generic and miniscule list of items from their Green Party of England and Wales site – in other words, from their main party site – which tells me ‘Wales’ is not of much concern.
Secondly, the Welsh Greens have not reconciled their position on the Welsh national question with their sister party in Scotland, who are firmly in support of the eventuality of Scottish independence. The Welsh Greens remain the Green Party of England and Wales, and are thus ultimately an imperial party, waiting in the wings. Indeed, the Welsh Greens have stated, on 6 September 2014 (the day after this current essay ‘Divided We Fall’ was originally posted) in Devolution is Not Gift, It is a Responsibility that they ‘are not especially concerned about national boundaries,’ and not only do they not support independence for Wales, although in their 2015 manifesto, the GPEW, has evolved in its support for greater powers for Wales in the devolution settlem ent. Yet, the GPEW have resisted the arguments for independence, even though they advocate the abolition of the monarchy.
The question of ‘nationalism’ has been a primary sticking point between Plaid and the Greens, but as Cynog Dafis, Plaid MP for Ceredigion from 1992-2000, argues in his 2005 Address, ‘Plaid Cymru a’r Gwyrddion’ (translated as ‘Plaid Cymru and the Greens: Flash in the Pan or a Lesson for the Future), the movements for independence have not only given political space for the question of regionalism as such, but that the very structure of Westminster, in respect of the subordinate nations, blatantly contravenes Green principles.
The alternative to the “Family of Nations” of England, Scotland and Wales as independent nations within a democratised Europe is dangerously a British Nationalism which is based upon the notion of sovereignty based in the Crown. Perhaps, the GPEW will in future rectify their advocacy of the abolition of the monarchy and the dismantlement of the Imperial British State and the devolution of all political parties to the Nations.
In terms of the General Election 2015, I would argue therefore that, on the one hand, Plaid Cymru is simply better placed than the GPEW to have a real effect on environmental issues due to Plaid’s longstanding electoral success. There are also examples of real impact and real possibilities, of numerous individuals working for common goals. This work is being done by Plaid Leader Leanne Wood (@LeanneWood) in her Greenprint for the Valleys, by Jill Evans MEP (@JillEvansMEP) in her exemplary work in the European Parliament in the alliance of Greens and the European Free Alliance. Mike Parker (@mikeparkerwales), broadcaster, travel writer, green, and Plaid candidate for MP in Ceredigion in 2015, intends to bring environmental concerns to the forefront in Ceredigion.
Most crucially, on the other hand, Plaid is to be preferred due to its long history of struggle in Wales, and it has, amidst its various political incarnations, always been there for the people of Wales. Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, celebrates its 90th year of struggle in 2015.
Since the Green Party has not managed to achieve much if any electoral success in Wales, the term ‘Green’ has become more of an existential statement or intellectual or practical style. Indeed, there is not very much active political engagement between Green-minded individuals and the Green Party. In this way, it would be better for Greens to support Plaid Cymru if they are serious about the Green Agenda.
The Greens have never been politically viable in Wales – outside of their 1990’s alliance with Plaid – and will merely draw away votes from Plaid. Such opposition between competing parties (advocating essentially the same things in the short and middle term) could lead to one of four possible disasters, in many constituencies, of either victories for Labour, the Tories or UKIP – or, in the case of Ceredigion, Cardiff Central, and Brecon and Radnorshire, the maintenance of the status quo of the ‘Coalition Government’-famed ‘Liberal Democrats’.
Greens should recognise that it is in their vital interests to participate in a coalition with Plaid, in which the Greens would vote tactically for Plaid in 2015, who are not only sufficiently placed in all levels of government, but have just as Green an agenda as the Greens themselves, according to Friends of the Earth. This type of alliance has happened before and it has been successful. Plaid Cymru, furthermore, remains true to the environmental agenda and while being aware of the economic benefits of green technology, ‘Green’ for them is not, as it is for some former Greens, a code word for ‘Green capitalism’ and Green PR.
My concern obviously, in this writing, especially since I know so many Greens, is to communicate that this strategic reality, while it is necessary due to the perennial political weakness of the Greens in Wales, nevertheless provides the Greens with an indispensable opportunity to participate in networks and coalitions which are capable of bringing about tangible change. Plaid was once a Party of Government in the National Assembly, and intends to be so again.
Many Green voters approve of Plaid, or would agree with its programme on social issues, democratic economics, and the interests and the needs of the people and environment of Wales, if they actually knew about them – as was certainly the case in the 1990’s.
The Question of Independence Revisited
Yet, the lynch-pin of the entire attitude of many greens in Wales lies with the question of independence. Some are put off by the ‘nationalism’ of Plaid Cymru. But, as Ken Jones writes in his Beyond Optimism (Beyond Optimism: The Political Ecology of Buddhism, Jon Carpenter, 1993), a text sited by Cynog Dafis in his 2005 Address,
The nationalism of distinctive cultural identity is evidently among the most persistent and indestructible of social phenomena. It is not going to go away.
The very idea of sustainability, to which both Plaid and the Greens make central aspects of their respective philosophies, must also include cultural sustainability, and that, as we have seen, is a distinctive concern of the ‘civic nationalism’ of Plaid Cymru.
Green voters in Wales, in this light, have the ability to decide to think ‘outside of the box’, to not only recognise their own current lack of a political base and to stand in a coalition with Plaid, but also to grow as a party, as has their sister party, the Scottish Greens, who have, as I mentioned earlier, evolved to support Scottish independence. The Scottish Greens have at long last recognised that the reality of ‘Westminster’ contravenes its very principles. But, many Welsh Greens still remain ‘in the box’, and they should be invited to join with Plaid Cymru for the sake of the Green agenda.
In the prevailing contemporary context, in other words – Plaid is the only tenable option for committed Greens in the General Elections of 2015 in Wales.
In this way, we should come together in this important election and work to make sustainable development an irreversible reality in Wales.
As Leanne Wood recently said in her keynote speech at the 2014 Plaid Cymru Conference and to the SNP’s National Conference, the peoples have begun a ‘democratic revolution’, which has taken the form of the Anti-Austerity UK alliance of the SNP, Plaid, and the Green Party, who will work together to ‘hold the balance of power’ in a hung parliament in the 2015 UK General Elections. Plaid, SNP and the Greens have also successfully engaged in the fight to be included in the Leader’s Debates so that the Anti-Austerity message can reach millions of hardworking and suffering people – a message of an alternative to austerity. If the ‘Neo-Thatcherite’ UKIP could hold such hopes, to ‘hold the balance of power’, then so can the parties of the Left which truly have the people’s interests in their hearts and minds.
Inclusion and equality in the Leaders Debates is the second step of the democratic revolution, the third being the Debates themselves, and the fourth, a successful election in which the Anti-Austerity UK alliance is the kingmaker.